Client Talks: Disagreements
Sep 8, 2016
Client Talks is a series of conversations between an agency and client, focusing on Content Marketing. For our third installment, John Lane, chief strategy officer at Centerline, sits down with Jason Poblete, content marketing manager at IBM Analytics: World Wide Public Sector. Check out their previous conversations here.
Every now and then, agency-client relationships encounter bumps in the road. The agency comes back with a solution and finds they weren’t quite on the same page as the client. How do you build trust with an agency? When does a conversation cross the line from a healthy dialogue to an argument? What are the next steps?
John Lane: When an agency comes back to you with a solution that doesn’t fit what you were expecting—even though you both were coming from a content point of view—what do you think the next best steps are, in order to work with the agency and get it to the right spot?
Jason Poblete: Well, I actually just had a call with Centerline where we got a creative proposal back that was not what we had in mind. It wasn’t exactly what we had communicated. But what I really liked was that we could kind of say, ‘OK – I see where you are going with this, but this is what we were thinking.’ Just simply working with the agency to clarify and make sure all the concepts are understood.
I think there needs to be a level of trust there. I need to just rely on and trust in the agency, and say ‘If you think this is the best value for the dollar, let’s go with it.’ I’ve found on a number of occasions, by just talking through our expectations, we’ve clarified things and gotten on the same page.
JL: That is always interesting to me. I think the key component of how trust gets built is having a similar point of view, or similar philosophy, when it comes to marketing.
If you have that kind of relationship with your client where it’s a fight to get to the same point of view, or you’re not quite positive that your points of view are aligned, then you are probably going to run into problems trusting one another, and having that type of dialogue.
That’s the way an agency-client relationship is supposed to work – you are supposed to challenge an idea from both sides. And an agency is supposed to feel comfortable when a client says, ‘This isn’t what we were expecting, how can we get it better?’ The client should feel comfortable when an agency comes back with an idea that might be left of center, or a little bit off from what they were expecting, to be able to have that dialogue back.
But again, you have to narrow it down, right? If you never came to the consensus that you’re working with the principles of content marketing versus the principles of direct advertising or social selling or whatever else—if you haven’t narrowed it down to that point—then the dialogue and trust will probably never be achieved.
JP: Yeah, absolutely.
JL: You’re probably setting yourself up for failure – there’s a difference between an argument and good dialogue. An argument usually happens when there’s a fundamental difference, and good dialogue happens when you know you are at least pushing in the same direction. It’s the details you’re working out.
JP: I think good dialogue occurs—and continues to be developed and improved—as you continue to work with someone.
For instance, a lot of the programs that I work on with Centerline involve Javier (Leiva, associate creative director) specifically. As I work with Javier, I find that he and I are almost on the same creative level – as we build that trust, it makes things easier. As you build that relationship, you save a lot of people a lot of time and effort, because you trust you’re on the same page.
But you also find out pretty quickly if you’re not on the same page with someone.
JL: I agree. It’s kind of the age-old dating analogy – determining if there’s chemistry from the beginning. It’s got to be sparked pretty early on. There probably wasn’t a big barrier to overcome at the beginning between you and Javier…is that the luck of the draw? Is it something that agencies and clients can both become better at figuring out? How can we make sure the relationship gets off on the right foot?
JP: Yeah, I think one of the things that really helped me, specifically, was when I came down for a shoot, because I wanted to see how you guys operated. I wanted to see how you worked together, and how you would connect with me as a client.
It worked well, because so often when you are on the phone, there’s always that awkward silence when one party is not really sure what to think or what to say. But when you’re in a room together, we’re able to talk over things, we were able to sit there and say, ‘Well, what about this? OK, that doesn’t work, what about this?’
I think it’s essential—not just important, but vital—for clients and agencies to meet together somewhat frequently. It’s so easy to avoid that when you can just pop on Skype or hop on a call. But I think it’s essential to get into a room and talk things over, brainstorm and work together from time to time, because it really allows you to get on the same page.
Back to that idea of when a client harshly disagrees with your creative direction, what is your next step, and how do you move towards crafting a piece that fits their agenda? I think that, again, it comes down to trust – if it’s a harsh disagreement, but you are on the same terms of what we are trying to accomplish, then that harsh disagreement probably turns into more of a healthy debate.
But when it does become just a harsh disagreement—which has actually happened—that is when, in my opinion, it’s important to be reflective on it, and admit to yourself that, at this point in time we can’t move forward this way. We have to stop. We have to reassess.
I think that this is really hard to do from an agency side, because you have the best types of creative ego – but all the same, they’re creative egos. Sometimes it takes someone to step in and say, ‘We have to stop ourselves. This is no longer a debate where the client is telling us that we need to rethink something – we have to tell ourselves we must rethink this, even if we thought we were right.’
I think being able to recognize that is a maturity level for an agency. One that only comes with time and partnerships with good clients.
Jason Poblete in his own words: A 2012 graduate from Penn State University’s Smeal College of Business, Jason is dedicated to interacting with audiences using valuable and innovative storytelling to build relationships. He currently resides in Morris County, New Jersey with his wife. Follow Jason on Twitter.
John Lane in his own words: When I would watch TV as a kid, I would run to the bathroom during the shows so I could make it back for the commercials… they were more interesting to me. That interest in the connection between brand and consumer is still the driving force of my involvement in marketing strategy and content creation. Follow John on Twitter.